Love At Work

This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
John 15:17

During a recent FaceTime call with our granddaughter, I asked when the last day of stay-in-place school will be. This soon-to-be sixth grader lamented the closing of her school, but not the last day of her at-home studies. Lauren said, “I really hoped that we’d get to go back to school this year. I miss my teacher and my friends.” After acknowledging Lauren’s loss, I reminded her that summertime would challenge her creativity. She, her parents and her sisters would have to find new ways to be productive and to enjoy their leisure time safely. Lauren agreed that this will be a unique adventure.

After we said our good-byes, I recalled the last days of school in my own classroom. Every year, a few of my students looked toward the summer months with dismay. Their parents struggled to make ends meet and often held second jobs. While other children looked forward to vacations with their families, these children dreaded long hours alone. During the summer months, they stayed home by themselves and hopefully stayed out of trouble.

Today, many of the children among us look to Summer 2020 with similar dismay. Many of their parents do, too. None of us know how our new normal will unfold. Some don’t know when they’ll be allowed to return to work and resume providing for their families. All of this adds to our communal concern regarding keeping those we’ve been given to love cared for and healthy.

A few days ago, when worry threatened, I responded by doing something positive. I contacted a nearby neighborhood program which supports families in need. They quickly told me how I could help. Rather than lamenting today’s uncertainties, let’s all do something to help. Praying for the suffering is a great place to start!

Loving God, help us to love as you do.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Precious Kids

The child grew and became strong in spirit…
Luke 1:80

My husband recently shared a Facebook posting he received from a former student of ours. Mike was Charlie’s middle school principal. As an elementary school remedial reading teacher, I never taught Charlie because he is extremely bright. Still, he and I interacted frequently due to our involvement in special school projects and the close proximity of our classrooms. We talked almost every day.

The truth is that I intentionally gave Charlie a good deal of attention. His amazing academic ability sometimes put him at odds with his classmates. I hoped to encourage Charlie to be himself and to do his best in spite of the teasing and worse which his peers mercilessly doled out. In the end, Charlie persisted. This brave young man is now a happy and productive adult.

Early into my teaching career, I was fascinated by a book concerning the most important things we learn in school. The author was convinced that he’d learned everything he needed to know for the rest of his life during kindergarten. Today, more than ever, I think we all need to be mindful of those early lessons in getting along and caring for each another. How I wish I could assign some of those currently in office and a few of my fellow citizens to repeat those lessons! The truth is that I sometimes need a similar refresher as well.

So it is that I’m going to take another peek at Charlie’s Facebook post. I’m certain that the image of his smile will reignite my faith in my fellow humans and in myself as we love one another through our battle with COVID-19.

Loving God, help us to be the children you created us to be.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Enjoy The Break!

From heaven the Lord looks
and sees us all.

Psalm 33:13

Today, the experienced teacher in me is making an appearance. She’s reminding me in no uncertain terms just how happily I anticipated holiday breaks. Though I loved my job and the students who endured every day with me, I looked forward to a day off just as eagerly as they did. Whether it was a one-day hiatus such as Veteran’s Day or a days-long winter or spring break, I enjoyed these departures from the norm. When I worked full-time, my husband, our sons and I filled these recesses from school with everything that our school schedules prevented. We played in the snow and then went to the movies to retreat from the cold. Enjoying new toys and other Christmas gifts added to the fun. We went to bed a little later and slept in a little longer with great relish.

Today, I admit to partaking of these pleasures with special joy in spite of the fact that I have the option of doing so almost every day. Sleeping in and setting aside my to-do list bring the greatest pleasure during the days between Christmas and New Year’s Day. A welcome side-effect is the leisurely tone with which I pray during this time. There’s no rush involved in these conversations with God. Yes, leisure time is a beautiful thing!

This New Year’s Eve, our sons and their wives and children are making the most of this break from their jobs and school. I’m pleased that this particular family tradition isn’t lost on the younger generation. My offspring appreciate this special time to relax and enjoy one another and they’re teaching their children the same.

Loving God, be with us as we make the time today and throughout the coming year to enjoy ourselves, one another and you.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Encourage One Another

Love your neighbor…
From Matthew 22:39

I ran into a former colleague who recently retired. Like I had, she spent her entire teaching career with kids who had far more to worry about than which box of cereal to choose for breakfast. We were both reading teachers whose students came to us from other classrooms. Because we had no homerooms, we monitored the outdoors and school entrances at the open and close of every school day. It was during these morning patrols that we encountered some reluctant grade-school students who expected the worst from every new day in their classrooms.

As my friend and I reminisced, we agreed that our former students had a variety of valid reasons for their daily trepidation. The good news is that they responded to our frequent interactions with surprising openness. My friend and I learned a good deal about these children as we coaxed them to the door. They shared things with us one-to-one which their classroom teachers would never know. We often shared advice with them which some eventually heeded enough to improve their days. We also put in a good word for these little lost souls whenever the opportunity arose. My friend and I also agreed that the best news in the world came in a teacher’s remark that one of our before-school friends was making meaningful progress or had actually enjoyed a good day.

From time to time we all encounter people who are reluctant to embrace the new day. Perhaps our willingness to listen or a word of encouragement will nudge them on their way. If they’re anything like those reluctant students, it’s worth a try.

Loving God, be with those who struggle today and give the rest of us the wisdom and generosity to encourage them along their way, just as you would.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love… Just Love!

The ordinances of the Lord are true, all of them just.
They are more precious than gold…

Psalm 19:10

As I walked the other day, I passed our local school at dismissal. Though I usually avoid this timing, I enjoyed the circus of it all just the same. The kids were well-behaved as they lined up for their buses and I fully appreciated the effort expended by them and their teachers to accomplish this. I wouldn’t trade my teaching career for anything. Still, there were days when I would’ve preferred to be any place other than in my classroom. This usually had little to do with the children. More often than not, it resulted from fatigue, frustration with “the powers that be” or the problems of people I care about. The good news is that my students managed to dispel my frustration in amazing ways.

When the children sensed an uncharacteristic edge in my voice, they were especially quiet and extremely helpful toward me and one another. In an effort not to darken my mood further, a few of them gave “the eye” to their less perceptive classmates who quickly responded. I always noted -and appreciated- this response to my crankiness and I answered it with a quick return to normalcy.

I worked very hard to make my classroom a productive and compassionate place. I realized that I succeeded at some level when the children managed my “off days” so mercifully. It seems to me that God has worked to make this world of ours a productive and compassionate place as well. The best way to let our Loving Creator know that we appreciate this effort is to respond in kind to one another.

Patient God, thank you for our capacity to love. Remind us often that your most pressing request is that we love each other.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Little Acts… Great Love…

Every day we are called to do small things with great love.
Mother Teresa

Sometimes, the smallest kindness changes the world.

It was the first day of school. Two eight-year-olds made their way to the start of the new year. The problem was that Conner, who was anxious to begin the new year just an hour earlier, had lost his nerve and he began to cry. Conner’s autism amplified his fear. Little Christian noticed his schoolmate’s misery. Without delay, he took Conner by the hand. Together, these two new friends made their way into what now would become an amazing first day of school for them both.

Christian’s mom had her phone along when she took her son to school that morning. She likely hoped to capture a photo of him on his first day of second grade. She never suspected that she’d also capture her son offering a measure of kindness powerful enough to change another child’s world. Christian’s small gesture changed my world as well!

Every day, we witness countless acts of love, tiny heroic moments which change lives. Every minute we’re given holds an opportunity to make or to break one another’s spirits and our own. Whenever we choose love over anger, love over impatience, love in spite of our weariness and love in the midst of heartbreak, we do our greatest work. Whenever we take advantage of the tiniest opportunity to do good, we change this world for the better.

Loving God, thank you for making use of everything we do, especially our small, seemingly unimportant efforts. Even these tiny acts make this world a better place.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved